From undergoing surgery to winning a national championship in less than one year, Alex Rigsby is proving herself virtually unbeatable yet again this season.
In the first eight games of the season, Rigsby, the Wisconsin women’s hockey team’s sophomore goaltender, has led the Badgers (7-1-0) to seven wins, playing three tough opponents (North Dakota, Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth) consecutively. While this playoff-like schedule holds the potential to cause panic so early in the season, Rigsby met the challenge.
After a career-high 80 saves this past weekend against the Bulldogs — 46 coming in Saturday’s win alone — Rigsby was named Western Collegiate Hockey Association Defensive Player of the Week on Monday for the second week in a row. She earned her first award after posting 52 saves against the Minnesota Gophers the previous weekend.
“She has gotten herself off to a good start; she seems to be comfortable and confident,” head coach Mark Johnson said. “In the last six games, she has been good in all six of them, and when you look at the quality of the opponents, she is one of the big reasons we have been able to win five of those six games.”
Rigsby’s confidence is apparent in the consistency of her performance thus far. Against North Dakota, she saved 68 shots, which helped the Badgers hold onto two close wins. The series against Minnesota was no different, as the Delafield native posted a .912 save percentage.
Rigsby’s consistent play has assisted her teammates and provided a backbone for the Badgers. She has given the defensive lines an extra boost of confidence knowing they have such a strong goalie behind them.
“Mistakes do happen — it is part of the game — but when your goaltender can bail you out, it gives you a sense of relief,” junior defenseman Stefanie McKeough said. “We have the utmost confidence in our goaltender.”
What lies behind this confidence and consistency is a set of personal triumphs. Most notable is Rigby’s successful performance in the WCHA playoffs last season that led the Badgers to a national championship. As only a freshman, Rigsby was able to effectively handle the high-pressure situations.
Rigsby said she believes this experience has made her a better player today, though she does not boast about her prior success as the reason for her play this season.
“This year is a completely different season, and you kind of have to just forget about last year,” Rigsby said. “Obviously, I gained huge experiences [last year], but you have to take it one game at a time.”
Preparing for the current season was much more enjoyable for Rigsby than it was her freshman year. After having major hip surgery prior to summer training camp last year, her focus was then centered on rehabilitating herself.
Traveling away from the team for rehab purposes throughout the summer, Rigsby had to re-learn everything, including how to skate and the basic fundamentals of being a goalie. This set her at a disadvantage from the start, as she was unable to consistently train with the team and did not make a full recovery until December of last year.
Not having to deal with such a strenuous recovery has allowed Rigsby to focus more on her conditioning and further her improvement, which is proving to be triumphant.
“It was definitely a huge thing for me to learn that you can overcome something like that situation,” Rigsby said.
Her resiliency to bounce back from such a setback and turn it around into a national championship has been noted and admired by her peers. As a coach, Johnson sees this determination as an admirable attribute in a player — especially as goalie, which he argues takes a very unique athlete to be successful at.
“What she went through last year, you can’t buy that experience,” Johnson said. “So she did it at a real high level and certainly has continued to get better, and that is what you look for in an athlete. Having those experiences has helped give her the start that she has had up to this point.”
Rigsby’s impressive opening to the season is just the beginning of what she hopes for in the coming months. With another national championship in mind, she plans to continue to work hard every practice to translate this goal into a reality. But beyond being a Badger, Rigsby aspires one day to play in the Olympic games and represent Team USA.
For now, though, she remains focused on improving and setting an example for the rest of the team determined to bring the trophy back to Madison once again.
“I don’t think you can put [her success] into words,” McKeough said. “Last year, being a freshman and leading us to a national championship game, obviously that is saying something very special about her and her talents … and this year, she proved it to us even more.”